Are you still looking for that great summer experience? We’ve got 100 ideas to help you make the most of your summer – and best of all, they’re all free.
Yes, this means 100 free summer activities for kids, parents, friends and more. From camping to coding, use our list to make this summer the best – and most affordable – summer ever.
The Great Outdoors
There are a wealth of free things to do outdoors – as long as the weather cooperates!
- Parks: Whether you live in a small town or a big city, chances are there’s a free park nearby ready for you to stop by and enjoy the afternoon.
- Playgrounds: Swingsets and slides are great places for kids to run and play, but they’re fun for adults too!
Take the kids to the playground, or go after sunset with someone special and swing side-by-side.
- Picnics: Make a couple of peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, or spend a morning deviling up some eggs. Then pack your picnic basket, grab a blanket and enjoy dining al fresco.
- Hiking: Parks, lakes and other nature areas often have marked hiking trails. They also usually designate the trail’s skill level, and provide options for novice hikers as well as people with experience. Make sure to wear comfortable, sturdy shoes!
- Swimming: There are two ways to swim for free in the summer. See if local pools offer free swim days, or check out the beaches, lakes and swimming holes in your area.
- Kite-flying: As Mary Poppins put it: Let’s go fly a kite! If you don’t already have a kite, it’s pretty easy to make your own.
- Stargazing: Looking at the stars is always free, so find a cloudless night and download a free astronomy app to help you identify what you’re seeing.
- Camping: Some campsites charge money, but others let campers stay for free. Look for free campsites in your area and then pack up the car, the tents and the marshmallows!
- Backyard Camping: Where better to pitch your tent than in your own backyard? I went backyard camping as a kid, and it was a fun way to experience the thrill of sleeping outdoors. Plus, it’s one campsite you don’t have to pay for!
Arts and Entertainment
From live theater performances to open mic night at your local watering hole, check out these free arts and entertainment ideas to keep busy during the summer.
- Outdoor Movies: Many towns and cities have free outdoor movies in the summer. Bring a blanket and get there early to claim your spot!
- Free Movies: Outdoor movies aren’t the only way to see free flicks this summer. Did you know you can get free movies from your local library?
- Outdoor Theater: Whether you’re watching Shakespeare in the Park or a summer musical, plenty of cities offer free outdoor theater in the summer.
- Usher at Theaters: Can’t find free live theater opportunities in your area? Volunteer to become an usher and you’ll get to see the shows for free.
- Summer Concerts: Free outdoor summer concerts, from show choirs to rock shows, are as much a part of summer as ice cream and flip-flops. Check out the schedule in your area.
- Social Dancing: If your area has a large social dance scene, look for free social dance nights or outdoor dance festivals. Then get ready to swing and tango!
- Free Museum Tickets: Nearly all museums offer free admission days, so figure out when you can go for free and enjoy an afternoon spent in air-conditioned comfort. Most local libraries also offer free passes to museums and other attractions.
- Open Mic Night: Are you a singer, a storyteller or a poet? Look for open mic nights and use them to share your best work. Some open mic nights come with an admission cost, but many are free.
- Bookstore Author Nights: Bookstores regularly invite authors to give readings from their newest books, and you rarely have to buy the book to attend.
- Public Lectures: Many communities have free public lecture series, so see what’s being presented in your area. You could learn about anything from aardvarks to zydeco.
In the Community
Be a tourist in your own backyard, or give back to the community by volunteering your time over the summer.
- Community Events: Check your local newspaper or community calendar for free community events like ice cream socials or 5K runs.
- Volunteering: When you’re checking your community calendar for free events, look for volunteer opportunities as well. You can also look up your favorite local organizations to see if they need volunteers.
Volunteering is a great way to give back — and yes, it’s free!
- Hometown Tourism: If a friend or relative visited your town or city, what special sights would you show that person? Why not explore those places yourself?
- Next-Town-Over Tourism: Are you a little bored with your hometown? Try being a tourist in the next town over. See what free sights, parks and other experiences it has to offer!
- Window Shopping: Just because you don’t want to spend money doesn’t men you can’t have the fun of shopping.
Window-shopping is a great way to explore a new neighborhood or check out a store you’ve never visited before. You have to have really good self-control, though — no impulse buys!
- Farmers Markets: Here’s another free activity that requires just a little self-control: visiting a farmers market and enjoying the free samples. You’ll get to taste freshly made cheese, just-picked strawberries and other delights.
- Adopt a Grandparent: Does your community have a senior center or nursing home? Ask about opportunities to volunteer with residents, or see if your area has an Adopt a Grandparent program to connect families and kids with older citizens.
- Meetup Group: Meetup.com gives you the opportunity to connect with other community members who share similar interests, from orienteering to knitting.
Some groups might meet in places that cost money, such as coffee shops, so look for groups that meet in free spaces like the public library.
- Public Library: How could we get this far without mentioning the library? Your public library has a wealth of free books, movies, music and games for you and your family to enjoy.
Many public libraries also host free events, lectures, movie nights and even special programs like speed dating for book lovers!
You’re great just the way you are, but if you want to level up your life, these free ideas can help.
- Morning Pages: Fans of Julia Cameron’s The Artist’s Way are already familiar with the idea of waking up every morning and writing three pages on whatever’s on your mind.
It’s a great way to process emotions, explore ideas or even write short fiction. It’s also absolutely free.
- Gratitude Journal: Write your Morning Pages as soon as you get up. Then, at the end of the day, write down three things in your gratitude journal. These can be three things you’re grateful for, or just three happy memories from the day.
- Walk 10,000 Steps: If you’re looking to improve your general health, start by walking. Aim for a 10,000-step-per-day goal, which is about five miles.
If you don’t already have a pedometer, use a free pedometer app to track your steps — or just walk around a park or a track for about an hour.
- Couch to 5K: Ready for something a little more intense? Try spending your summer going from couch to 5K — that’s a 5K run, of course.
The Couch to 5K program helps beginner runners slowly work their way up to a 5K run by steadily increasing the distance run every day.
- 7-Minute Workout: The New York Times’ 7-Minute Workout is another great — and free — way to stay fit.
All the exercises are designed to be performed at home with no special equipment. Push up and crunch your way to physical fitness, in just seven minutes per day.
- Declutter Your Home: Whether you use the KonMari method or make it up as you go along, taking the time to declutter will leave your home feeling refreshed and re-energized for fall.
Trust us — you’ll be glad you took the time to clear out those old papers and get rid of those old clothes.
- Read All the Books on Your Nightstand: If you’re anything like me, your nightstand has at least five half-finished books stacked on it. Finish them, and then put them away!
For the Family
Round up the kids, grandkids, aunts, uncles and cousins for these free summer activity ideas.
- Family Dinner: How often does the entire family sit down to eat dinner together — and how often does that dinner last for more than 10 minutes?
Use summer’s more relaxed schedule to plan regular family meals where you not only eat together, but also share conversation and enjoy each other’s company.
- Tell Your Day: How can you make these family dinners memorable? Try the “tell your day” technique, where each family member goes around and shares the story of his or her day.
If you need additional inspiration, ask everyone to share one good thing and one challenge from their day.
- Family Cooking Projects: Make these family meals even more special by inviting kids to help cook.
Whether you’re making cool, sweet treats like popsicles or passing down your secret spaghetti sauce recipe, you’ll be making both food and memories in the kitchen.
- Chronicle Family History: Do you have a record of your family’s history? How far back can you track grandparents, great-grandparents and extended relatives?
Write down family stories and interview relatives to learn more about your family and its many generations.
- Make a Time Capsule: Look to the future by making a time capsule. Let kids choose what they want to include, from school photos to a list of favorite toys.
Then bury the time capsule in the backyard or put it away somewhere safe so it can be found by future generations — or so you can dig it up when your kids become adults!
- Family Book Club: Choose a family-friendly book for everyone to read and discuss together.
- Family Movie Club: Have a weekly family movie night and let everyone take turns picking a free movie from the library or on your streaming service.
- Family Game Night: Was it Mr. Green in the library with the revolver? Who can build the Longest Road? Family game nights are great ways to spend time together without spending money.
- The Longest Picture in the World: In Beverly Cleary’s Ramona and her Father, the Quimby father and daughter work together to draw The Longest Picture in the World.
Replicate Ramona’s adventure with your kids, using crayons or markers to create your own Longest Picture as a family.
- Family Slumber Party: Grab your jammies and your sleeping bags and have a family slumber party in the living room.
- Yes Day: Amy Krouse Rosenthal’s Yes Day is about how parents can create magic for their children by simply agreeing to say yes to every request for one full day. Yes, you can eat ice cream for breakfast. Yes, you can have another hour of screen time.
Have a Yes Day in your house for anything that doesn’t cost money, and see if it isn’t the most memorable day of the year!
- Family Band: Whether your kids have a year or two of piano lessons under their belt or they’re still learning how to play the recorder, have fun spending an afternoon together singing and recording your family’s favorite songs.
Don’t forget to send the recording to Grandma — she’s going to love it.
- Shakespeare in the Backyard: Work with your kids to stage a play or put on a talent show in the backyard. Use toys and dress-up clothes as props and costumes, and invite friends to come over and see the show!
- Family Sports Day: Play parents-vs-kids basketball, show your kids how to play HORSE, mark off a baseball diamond in the backyard or teach your kids the many “rules” of Calvinball.
- Craft Time: Turn cardboard, milk cartons, K-cups and other recyclable goods into fun family craft projects.
If you need inspiration, here’s a list of 1,000 recycled craft ideas, from placemats to space ships.
- Parent Date Night: Leave the kids with grandparents or arrange a free babysitting swap. Then go out for a much-needed date night, doing free activities like stargazing, going to an outdoor concert or having a picnic.
- One-on-one Kid Dates: Take each of your kids out for a special one-on-one kid date. Do free, fun activities like hanging out at the playground or visiting a museum.
Programs for Kids
These free kids’ programs are perfect for encouraging them to read or to get them out of the house when cabin fever strikes.
- Chuck E.’s Rewards Calendars: Print free calendars to help kids learn good habits. Mark the calendar with a sticker when your child accomplishes a goal, then take the calendar to Chuck E. Cheese to collect a reward.
- Apple Camp: Apple offers free three-day camps to teach kids how to use iMovie and iBooks to create their own films and stories. Sign up well in advance because these camps fill up fast.
- Barnes and Noble Summer Reading: If your kids love reading, they can earn a free book by signing up for the Barnes and Noble Summer Reading program and reading eight books of their choice.
- Pottery Barn Weekly Story Time: Pottery Barn offers a weekly Story Time for kids and families. If you become a Pottery Barn book club member, kids receive a special gift after attending five Story Time sessions.
- TD Bank Summer Reading Program: TD Bank is ready to reward readers in its summer reading program. If your child reads 10 books, TD Bank will deposit $10 into a Young Saver account.
- Half Price Books Summer Reading Program: Half Price Books rewards young readers with Bookworm Bucks. Elementary and middle school kids track reading minutes in a log to earn their Bookworm Bucks, and high school students write short book reports to earn their Bucks.
- Pizza Hut BookIt! Summer Reading Challenge: A lot of us remember participating in BookIt! as children. It’s still around, and Pizza Hut is offering a summer reading challenge — and the opportunity to win prizes — to young readers.
- Scholastic Summer Reading Challenge: Wow, there are a lot of free reading programs out there! The Scholastic Summer Reading Challenge invites kids to read books and win virtual prizes.
- Kids Bowl Free: Use the Kids Bowl Free website to find free bowling opportunities in your area.
- Kids Skate Free: Use the Kids Skate Free website to find free skating opportunities in your area.
- Six Flags Bring a Friend Free: Six Flags offers Bring a Friend Free days throughout the summer.
These free days are only good for Season Pass holders, so you can either use your Season Pass to invite one of your child’s friends to come along for free, or your child could be the free friend brought along on someone else’s Season Pass.
For You and Your Friends
Be the hero of your social circle when you suggest these free activities to do with your friends.
- Progressive Dinner: With a progressive dinner, you and your friends each take on one part of the dinner experience (appetizers, salad course, main course, dessert, etc.) and then you travel from one home to another until dinner is complete.
- Babysitting Swap: Exchange free babysitting with a friend. You’ll watch their kids one night, and they’ll watch yours another night.
- Housesitting Swap: Have a long-distance bestie who also wants a low-cost summer vacation?
Arrange a housesitting swap: you’ll stay in your friend’s house, and your friend will stay in yours. Free lodging, and you get to explore a new city!
- Clothing Swap: Have your friends bring their gently worn clothes and enjoy swapping your way into new favorite outfits.
- Toy Swap: Have your friends bring their gently worn toys and swap them for the toys your kids no longer use.
- Jam Session: Invite your musically inclined friends over for an evening jam session.
- Baseball Game: Invite your athletically inclined friends over to play baseball in the park or in a backyard.
- Tabletop Night: Invite your friends over to play the board games you loved as a kid.
- Hang Out: You don’t always have to plan an event for your friends. Just invite them to come over and hang out! It’s easy and free!
Fire up the computer to check out these online freebies.
- Project Gutenberg: Get free access to nearly every public domain book through Project Gutenberg.
You can even read Project Gutenberg books on your Kindle or ebook reader, or the free Kindle app.
- Free Audiobooks: Prefer your books in audio form? LibriVox offers free audio versions of public domain books, read by volunteers. (Yes, you can volunteer to record LibriVox books too! It’s one more free, fun summer activity.) Or use one of these free apps to download free audiobooks, movies, TV shows and more from your library.
- JayIsGames: Like games? JayIsGames features the best browser and computer games out there, from RPGs to locked room games to interactive novels. A few games are pay-to-play, but the majority are free.
- Free Streaming Video: Watch hours of TV shows and movies with free video streaming appsthat let you check out your favorite shows for free.
- Kindle Owners’ Lending Library: If you have a Kindle, are you taking advantage of the Kindle Owners’ Lending Library?
Kindle owners who are also Amazon Prime users have access to more than 800,000 books in this library, all for free.
- Skype With Relatives: Set up free Skype sessions with relatives you don’t see very often, or introduce your kids to their second cousins!
For grandparents who live far away, consider setting up a weekly or twice-monthly Skype session to keep in touch and get to know each other a little better.
- Learn a New Language: Summer is a great time to begin learning a new language. We’ve got eight free language-learning tools to help you get started.
- Learn to Code: Would you rather learn a computer language?
Summer is a great time to practice your coding skills with Khan Academy.
- Make Movies: Have you always wanted to make a short film or start a vlog? You probably have all of the tools you need already on your laptop.
If you’d like to put your vlogs or cat videos online, we’ve got advice on how to make money with YouTube.
- Record Music: Your laptop also probably has most of what you need to record music – all you have to do is come up with the hit song!
Record your songs and sell them through Bandcamp, or check out our other ideas for making money with music.
- Start a Blog: Everyone has a story to tell, why not share yours with the world. Set up a free blog and start writing.
- Get Into Periscope: Periscope is a must-have social media app; it allows you to livestream your favorite moments and share them with your friends. Get the free app and start telling your own story.
- Laugh at YouTube’s Best Webseries: YouTube has plenty of great original webseries, from the teen-friendly Lizzie Bennet Diaries to the classic geek comedy The Guild. If you’re looking for something fun and free to watch, try a webseries.
- Binge-watch Your Favorite TV Show: Whether you’re a Gilmore Girls fan or you’re more into The X-Files, summer is the time for binge-watching your old favorite TV shows or introducing your kids to Mulder and Scully.
- Empty Your DVR Queue: Remember how we told you to read every book collecting dust on your nightstand? Same goes for your DVR queue. Watch it or delete it, but set it free.
- Apple Workshops: If you considered skipping this section because you don’t consider yourself “a computer person,” head over to the nearest Apple store and take one of their free workshops. You can learn how to edit video on a Mac, make music with Garageband and more.
Saving and Earning Money
If you have some spare time, check out these ways to save and earn money over the summer.
- Resell Clothes Online: You can swap your old clothes, or you can sell them online using sites like Tradesy and Poshmark. Use our clothing resale guide to get started.
- Resell Books Online: After you’ve sold your old clothes, it’s time to make money by selling your old books. We’ve got a guide for that, too.
- Have a Yard Sale: A classic summer activity that combines decluttering with earning cash. What could be better?
- Start a Coin Jar: Get the whole family involved in saving by setting up a coin jar and encouraging everyone to drop in their change.
Add extra motivation by creating a family goal, such as a day at the water park, and taping the goal to the jar.
- Update Your Resume: When’s the last time you updated your resume? For better or worse, it’s something you can do for free on a summer day when you’ve got time on your hands.
- Update Your LinkedIn Profile: While you’re updating your resume, you might as well update your LinkedIn profile. When’s the last time you added new skills or asked for a recommendation?
- Make a Five-Year Plan: Where do you want to be in five years? Take a summer afternoon to sit down and think about your goals and dreams — as well as what you need to do to get there.
- Get Out of Debt: If one of your goals is to get out of debt, you can start working on that right now.
- Sign Up for Money-Making Sites: Want to earn a little extra money to pay down debt or plan for next year’s summer vacation?
Sign up for a money-making site like SBK Center, which literally pays you for your junk mail.
- Start Planning for Fall Expenses: The last free thing you want to do this summer? Start planning for fall.
Whether you’re budgeting for back-to-school or thinking about college and retirement costs, taking time to plan now will mean saving money in the long run — and thinking ahead is always free.
Nicole Dieker is a freelance writer focusing on personal finance and personal stories. Her work has appeared in The Billfold, The Toast, Yearbook Office, The Write Life and Boing Boing.